A community garden run by a women's cooperative in Niger helps feed the community and diversify its diet while providing an opportunity to generate extra income.
In Guilladjé, a small village in Dosso region, southwestern Niger, the quality of the daily diet of many households has improved in recent years through a community vegetable garden. This roughly 5 ha garden is tended to by a village women's cooperative with the support of a local NGO specialising in water systems and food security, along with L'Organisation Nigérienne pour la Promotion de l'Hydraulique et du Développement à la Base, a Niger water and development organisation (ONPHDB), which promotes grassroots development, with a focus on water projects. Boureïma Garba of ONPHDB says that the idea of creating this vegetable garden for the benefit of women from the village emerged as a result of the cyclical food crises that have hit Niger, seriously affecting rural people who are exclusively dependent on rainfed crops for food.
The aim of the community garden is twofold: to diversify the food production habits of Guilladjé residents in order to reduce their dependence on rainfed crops, which are vulnerable by nature, while simultaneously fighting malnutrition, a serious problem affecting children in a country where millet is the main staple food. The villagers have been readily involved in this initiative.
"The NGO approached the village chief regarding the project, who kindly offered a field to the women's cooperative," says Daouda Abdou, deputy mayor of Guilladjé. Once the land was obtained, ONPHDB created the conditions necessary to begin production activities by enclosing the site with wire fencing, building a modern well to facilitate access to water and supplying farming implements and inputs. An agricultural technician was provided to support and to help boost productivity.
Around 30 women cultivate the community vegetable garden and produce various vegetables (cabbages, tomato, carrots, cucumbers, okra, peppers, green beans), tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava), fruit (melon, watermelon) and moringa, etc., under the supervision of the extension agent.
President of the cooperative, 50-year-old Oumou Seydou, cultivates a piece of land of around 300 m2 at the site, with the help of her three daughters. "Our food habits have dramatically changed in the village since we began cultivating this vegetable garden. Before, households that managed to get two meals a day invariably prepared a breakfast of millet porridge, often without curdled milk, and dough seasoned with a baobab leaf and soumbala sauce for dinner," she says. "We have now diversified our diet with the vegetables, tubers and fruit we produce and also earn money by selling part of the harvested crops," she adds.
"Millet porridge is not the only food served daily. We sometimes also prepare a stew made with potatoes, sweet potatoes or cassava along with the necessary condiments. In addition, we make very nutritious meals with cabbages, green beans and moringa leaves," says Mariama Sambo. They also eat fruit, which offer a supplementary supply of calories and vitamins.
The surplus production is sold at local markets and the generated income has enabled some of these women farmers to launch into small livestock and poultry farming. "I initially bought two goats, a chicken and guinea fowl eggs with my savings, as of the second year of cultivating my plot. I now have about 10 dairy goats and guinea fowl which produce eggs to tide us over through the rainy season," says Seydou, proud of her achievements. When sales are stagnant, the products are preserved by drying techniques that the women farmers have learnt.
The success of this initiative in the fight against malnutrition has fostered its dissemination to many other parts of the country with the help of national and international NGOs such as CARE, Action Against Hunger and Save the Children, among others. Some of these vegetable gardens are equipped with a drip irrigation system developed by researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in 2010. This system has generated real momentum in the development of so-called 'African vegetable gardens' in several Sahelian countries. Some 7,000 smallholdings located in around 100 communities in Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal are now equipped with this innovative irrigation system, thus enabling them – according to ICRISAT – to produce better, have a balanced diet, and make money.
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